The first of the series of films adapted from Tom Clancy’s list of best-sellers, The Hunt for Red October brought together Some key Hollywood talent for its production in 1990, including Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Tim Curry and Scott Glenn. While not all of the men were household names at that point, without a doubt Connery and Baldwin were enough in the spotlight to not only get people to take notice of this film, but to also create a market for future Clancy films…even if the films following this one followed a completely different tone.
When a new, technologically superior Soviet nuclear sub, the Red October, heads for the U.S. coast under the command of Captain Marko Ramius (Connery), the United States scramble to find a way to not only protect themselves against this stealth sub but to also contact Ramius to find out what his true intentions are. With the help of CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin), the U.S. is able to decode Ramius’s subtle movements and learn that what is being perceived as a hostile attack on the United States is really Ramius trying to defect—something Ryan only has a few hours to prove while multiple submarines hunt down the Red October.
During one of classes (“Interpersonal Communication”), there was an option to watch a selection of films and write a paper on them for extra credit. The assignment was to watch the film and see how individuals interact with one another—in this particular case, the men that followed Ramius. While I was originally up for the task, I realized analyzing a film in such a way could cause me to not only never want to watch the film again, but to also spend way more time analyzing a film than I like. Reviewing them is hard enough, but when it comes to sitting down to analyze something in that great of detail, I have to option out of it, if possible (luckily I didn’t need the extra credit).
Though I’d never seen the film, it was always something I remember as a kid while at the local library. There, every week, would be a copy of the bright red covered film with only Sean Connery’s head floating out of the black. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know who it was about or what it was about…but I didn’t care. I attempted to rent it a few times but was always dissuaded by my siblings because it was a “boring” movie .Perhaps that was in the back of my mind for the past few years as I never took the opportunity to watch the film. When the Blu-ray was announced, I decided to finally take the plunge and see if they were right.
In a way they were; The Hunt for Red October is a very slow moving film, but despite its over two-hour run time, I honestly didn’t feel the effects of its listless pace. As entirely unexciting as it was, the film managed to still rope me in with its plot alone. There was no incredibly intense underwater submarine battle and by the climactic third act I had little desire to even see one. It was the characters that made the film so compelling and I was quite pleased that I’d decided to finally see it; it wasn’t a mind blowing or supremely crafted film by any means, but it was still very entertaining, which is all I ask from a film (for the most part).
What made the film so compelling were its characters and were I not so stubborn I could probably have very easily written that paper. The interactions they have with one another is absolutely fantastic and by the time we see Connery and Ryan together on-screen, it feels like some long awaited sequence between friends that are finally reunited. Of course it doesn’t play out like that, but it’s still an entertaining element of the film that you feel the build up for during its entire run (not to mention it’s inevitable due to the picture on the back of the packaging). Oddly enough Ryan is hardly present in the film and it very much belongs to Connery—Ryan feels wholly secondary, so it was probably a bit odd to see a string of Clancy sequels where he was front and center, although nowadays it feels backwards since his appearance in those films trumps what he displays here.
Also fascinating to see were Ramius’s men. Sam Neill as the second in command and Tim Curry as the doctor each had their own unique additions to the film, however brief they were. The American side of things wasn’t quite so diverse, although Ryan and Admiral James Greer (Jones) kept it eventful. Without a doubt it was the characters from both sides that made the film what it is; there certainly wasn’t a grand amount of action to be had (which is odd considering it comes from Die Hard director John McTiernan).
Overall if you haven’t seen this 1990 classic by now, then quit putting it off. It likely won’t have you on the edge of your seat, but the characters are so well written and played, especially with Connery, that any other shortcomings the film has are made up from that element alone. Recommended.
I opted to watch the four Jack Ryan films in the order of their release, so when I started off with The Hunt for Red October, I set myself up for a massive disappointment as the series went on in terms of Blu-ray specifications. I’ll save the hate for the video transfers for the other reviews, however, as The Hunt for Red October arrives in its standard Blu-ray disc case (with insert for firmware upgrades and the play grey wash disc art) and its simple menus with a rather surprising video transfer. The AVC encoded affair looks fantastic, with deep blacks and plenty of other vibrant colors thrown in for the non-submarine sequences. It has an aged look about it but nothing that screams “digital restoration”—it has grain in all the right places and strong detail for the characters. The accompanying audio, a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track, boasts a strong surround mix, with the sounds of the submarines bouncing around channels and the more riveting elements of the film getting a full front and surround mix. In addition to the TrueHD track is a French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track, accompanied by English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Extras are slim on this (and all of the Jack Ryan films, to be honest), although this is one of the more packed of the four films. A commentary with director John McTiernan is included and is an honest and informative track, filled with lots of information about the film and plenty of talk why he chose to do a film of this type. Also included is a “Beneath the Surface” (29:00, 480p) featurette, with a 2002 copyright, that delves into the production of the film and includes cast and crew interviews. Finally there’s a “Theatrical Trailer” (1:41, 1080p) with full 5.1 sound. Impressive.
This is a clone of the Special Edition release from 2002, but those in the market for the film who don’t already own it should check this one out. It’s got a leg up on the DVD release in the video department, although it’s such a tame movie in terms of required surround sound work that I have few doubts that the DVD release is more than up to snuff.
Previous DVD Owners: Skip It.
The Hunt for Red October is now available on Blu-ray.